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“Congress is directing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to go back to the drawing board and come up with solutions to control growing wild horse and burro herds that threaten to trample tens of millions of acres of federal rangelands….” – by Scott Streater, E&E News, dated Feb. 14, 2019, in AmericanWildHorseCampaign.org.
One thing this paragraph tells us is that both Congress and BLM realize that there is an unprecedented problem on their hands, and neither had any idea of what the unprecedented solution could be, if there is one.
Well, coincidence has it that this very site you’re in was launched on that same day, as my valentine’s gift to our beloved wild horses, in which I propose exactly this unprecedented solution. Read on.
To find the solution, one must first understand the problem. Neither of them can be said to be simple. If I want to delve into the minutiae of every development, it would take a book, so I will tell it in the simplest way possible, such that all, with or without wild horse background, can understand.
Most people would invoke the above image to characterize the wild horse overpopulation problem, myself included, but there is a deeper cause of which most people are not aware, which invokes in my mind this image.
Let me pick up where I left off in the previous section.
Before 1971, the wild horse scene was chaotic and lawless, where “Mustangers” run the show. Anyone capable of capturing Mustangs by whatever means, mostly by truck or on horseback, can do so with impunity and sell off their catch to whatever purchaser for whatever purpose – mostly for meat. The movie “The Misfits” (Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift) illustrates it in living black-&-white. This lasted until 1971, when [The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act] was signed into law by then President Richard M. Nixon. The act covered the management, protection and study of “unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands in the United States.”
According to BLM literature: ” Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”
One of the previous incarnations of the BLM being the U.S. Grazing Service (USGS), it adopted its horse/cattle public land sharing strategy, grossly favoring cattle over horse in terms of their respective AMLs.
In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, most if not all natural predators – the cougar, the bear, and especially the wolf – were eradicated, principally by the ranchers to protect their cattle, and by hunters who considered the predators as competition for deer and elk. While the cattle population was controlled and regulated by the ranchers and Congress, most of the relevant Congressmen are controlled by the ranchers, the wild horse population was uncontrolled, the result being an unregulated population escalation to the tune of a doubling every 4 years, which clearly is an unsustainable exponential growth situation.
One of the the solutions that BLM implemented was to round up a certain number of them every so often and have them adopted by the public. This worked for a while, but public interest in adopting Mustangs waned, while and the on-range population of wild horses and burros continuing to burgeon. Since the 1971 Act forbade the BLM from killing them, its fall-back position was to construct holding facilities to keep the unadopted captive horses indefinitely. At last count, about 3 dozen corral-like holding facilities were built with a total capacity of about 45,000.
The maintenance of these facilities and caring for the thousands of horses in captivity proved to be a very expensive proposition. To lessen the expenditure a little, BLM leased a number of very large pastures from landowners in surrounding states, and had a portion of the captive horses placed there for less expensive and longer-term holding, total capacity about 30,000. The total capacity of the short and long term holding facilities was about 75,000. All in all, holding and caring for the captive horses consumed over 90% of the BLM annual budget of about $70 million, leaving little for on-range population management.
Still, this worked for awhile, for as long as there was still vacancy in both the expensive short-term corrals and the less expensive holding pastures. But all in-the-know knew that this was just an annual kicking the can down the road. Sooner or later, the can would hit a wall. And this happened in 2018, when the holding facilities began to hang up NO VACANCY signs.
Meanwhile, the on range horse population expanded almost unimpeded, to 82,000 and growing in 2018. The wild horse AML being set (by the BLM) at only ~26,000, there were some 55,000 excess horses/burros on the range, and they, for the first time, had nowhere to go except the slaughterhouse.
In 2019, the total population had risen to some 100,000 with over 75,000 “excess” horses and burros to be placed and nowhere to place them. And the situation worsens by the day, with every new foal born., with every hour that passed without a solution.
The population expanded “almost” unimpeded because, as in cat-dog-human birth control, there is the mature and proven technology of ImmunoContraception (IC) for wild animals successfully practiced on a broad range of wild animal species including the elephant, deer, bison and elk, which has gained wide acceptance among the 18 or so wild horse advocacy groups – except two – some of which having developed working relationships with the BLM to administer IC on a small scale on various herds. These, if employed unimpeded throughout the public land, could have saved the wild horse from slaughter.
I mentioned that there were/are two (out of about 18) dedicated wild horse groups opposed to the use of IC, the active ingredient in which being PZP – thus the NO PZP sign in the picture above. Plus, there is a powerful generic so-called “animal rights” group (say “Group-X”) backing these two anti-IC wild horse groups, by and large via launching obstructionist lawsuits against any project using PZP. Together, they have obstructed the employment of IC on horses almost to a standstill – for entirely unscientific reasons, claiming that if let alone, the wild horse could regulate its own population. Some even claimed/claim that there was no such thing as Carrying Capacity (CC) of the land for the equine species, and therefore no such thing as overpopulation. In doing so, they totally ignore the no-natural-predators factor, without whose control any wild horse “population-self-regulation” would be by STARVATION, and in some cases, THIRST. And this would be compounded with massive and often irreversible ecological damage done to their delicate, borderline fragile semi-desert environment, the damaged vegetation taking decades to recover, if it could. This Group-X and its two anti-IC crony-groups took to obstructionist tactics against any IC project they could launch a lawsuit against, causing the cancellation of many, some planned and prepared for over a number of years at considerable expense. Speaking from personal experience, an Ohio anti-urban-deer-culling IC-campaign in 2007, of which was I a part, was likewise derailed by this same Group-X, which directly caused the continuation of urban deer culling to the tune of several hundred every year to this day.
Meanwhile, one of the two anti-IC wild horse groups with a “sanctuary” took in a herd of several hundred wild horses while refusing to administer IC on them in accordance of Group-X’s policy. This resulted eventually in about 800 starving horse confiscated by the authorities. A wildlife biologist sadly quipped: “Obviously, they have never taken Ecology 101.”
Which brings us to the present. The holding facilities are full, and the 75,000 excess horses have nowhere to go but the slaughterhouse, and tens of thousands more, year after year, for as long as Group-X and its cronies stand in the way. Thus, my own picture:
Still, even if Group-X and its two sidekicks were neutralized, what are we going to do with this hopeless situation right now of 50,000-75,000 wild horses being slaughtered?
Please see the “Unprecedented Solution” section.
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